Looking at past and into future: Will Democrats consider compromises on religious issues?

Let's take a trip into my GetReligion folder of think-piece guilt, shall we?

In this case, I would like to point readers toward a piece at The Atlantic by Michael Wear that ran about a month ago. The headline: "Why Democrats Must Regain the Trust of Religious Voters."

We could, after the narrow Doug Jones victory in the Alabama Senate race, change that headline to something that would look like this: "Why Democrats Must Regain the Trust of Religious Voters, when Running Against Candidates Other Than Roy Moore."

As I have said several times: Imagine if the Democrats had, in Alabama, selected an African-American pro-life woman as their candidate. The cultural conservatives who either boycotted Moore or wrote in a third-party candidate would have had a valid choice on the other side the ballot. Moore would have been the walking (or horseback) dead against a culturally conservative Democrat.

There are so many journalism stories -- local, regional and national -- linked to this issue, in religion and in politics.

In a way, this is similar to this question: Would Joe Biden have defeated Donald Trump, especially if he had shown a willingness to seek compromises on religious-liberty issues and abortion? I think I know the answer to that one, too. Hillary Clinton was just about the only candidate on earth Trump could defeat, in large part because of her loyalty to the cultural, political and, yes, secular/religious left (key Pew Forum data here).

So here is Wear's overture:

Democrats ignored broad swaths of religious America in the 2016 election campaign and the nation has suffered because of it. Yet calls for a recommitment to faith outreach -- particularly to white and other conservative or moderate religious voters -- have been met in some corners of liberal punditry with a response as common as it is unwarranted. Some quarters of the Democratic party would rather maintain rhetorical and ideological purity than win with a more inclusive coalition. For the sake of the country, the party must turn back to people of faith.

But here is the crunch paragraphs in this analysis piece:

For all of the critique of the 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump, it’s a bit too convenient for those who never cared about Democratic faith outreach in the first place to harp on the 81 percent without pointing out the 16 percent: the middling, previously unfathomable percentage of white evangelicals who voted for Hillary Clinton. In 2012, Barack Obama -- the first president in American history to endorse same-sex marriage, the target of a massive campaign accusing him of waging a “war on religion” -- won 21 percent of white evangelicals. Because white evangelicals account for more than a quarter of the American electorate, that five-point difference accounts for a swing of millions of votes nationally. In a state like Michigan, if Hillary Clinton would have matched Obama’s 2012 numbers among white evangelicals, she would have won the state comfortably.
Calls for the Democrats to return to a robust religious outreach have received pushback among some influential voices. The Democratic Party has spent much of the first-year that Republicans have controlled both the White House and Congress by debating which Democratic voters it can afford to cut loose -- specifically, whether there’s a place in the party for pro-life voters at all.  Following a controversy involving Heath Mello -- a candidate for mayor in Omaha, Nebraska, who was deemed to be insufficiently pro-choice -- Democratic party chairman Tom Perez said in a statement that it was “not negotiable” that every Democrat should support abortion rights. Mello lost the election to a Republican. Perez’s standard was news to 23 million pro-life Democrats, and Democratic elected officials who have received party support even if they hold nuanced positions on abortion.  
No matter how consistently NARAL’s candidates lose to vehemently pro-life, down-the-line Republican politicians, they continue to attack successful Democrats who do not go along with whatever the new litmus test issue is for being “fully pro-choice.”

OK, you get the point. But abortion is the old issue. Everyone knows that the hottest issue right now is the First Amendment and its protection of the free exercise of religious beliefs.

Thus, Wear dares to go there:

At some point, years after the legalization of same-sex marriage, LGBT voters and allies who care about LGBT rights may wonder why Democrats are content to push the Equality Act, which  no Democrat believes can pass in the short-term, while neglecting a more viable path forward with evangelicals and others who are willing to support LGBT rights if reasonable religious freedom protections are included. Does the LGBT American who is worried they can get married on Sunday, but fired on Monday, know this?

Oh, and also (with the Catholic vote looming in the background):

African American and Hispanic Democrats may ask why their party is willing to take symbolic, extreme positions on social issues -- positions many Hispanic and African American voters do not even support -- when voter disenfranchisement and deportation of Dreamers are at stake. Does intersectionality really demand that the Little Sisters of the Poor be held to provide contraceptive coverage to celibate nuns even if the political cost of that policy is the election of Republicans who are opposed to the vast majority of policy objectives supported by those who embrace the idea of intersectionality?

OK, that's enough. Read it all.

If this essay fascinates you, and you want to read a work of journalistic prophecy, read this classic 1995 Atlantic piece: "On Abortion: A Lincolnian Position."

Please respect our Commenting Policy